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Still Learning from Saint Nicholas

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

In the spirit of the season, I'm challenged to find a need and fill it -- in secret.

Today is the Feast of Saint Nicholas of Myra, a Christian Bishop from southern Turkey, best remembered for giving gifts in secret. Though he died nearly 1,700 years ago, his legacy of generosity lives on, and stories of his largesse abound. One describes how in the dark of night, he tossed sacks of gold coins through the windows of some poor girls to provide dowries and respectability, thus saving them from lives of compromised virtue on the streets.

Another story relates how he secretly offloaded wheat from a visiting ship without the loss being detected, thus, easing a terrible famine in Myra. Still another legend tells of him resurrecting children murdered by a butcher, thus becoming the patron of children.

Centuries later Saint Nicholas’ history and legend would converge in the persona of Santa Claus, whose gifts children eagerly await at Christmas. But more important than consumable gifts, Saint Nicholas generated hope.


Perhaps this Advent, hope seems as distant as our far-flung, isolated loved ones threatened by the Omicron variant of the Covid pandemic. Perhaps this Advent the wait for the Prince of Peace in a fractured world seems more wearisome, more fraught than in other years. Yet, perhaps this Advent I can learn from the example of St. Nicholas.

Can I find a need and fill it?

Can I do this in secret?

Can I truly immerse myself in active waiting to share Hope?

Find a Need. Fill It.

So, I ponder… Advent waiting need not be an isolated period of passivity. Instead, I can be productive, helpful, hopeful. I can do, not just be.

Saint Teresa of Avila, the 16th century mystic, reminds me:

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours…”

Me? Be God’s hands? God’s feet? God’s breath here on earth? Whew. That’s a weighty responsibility.

Yet, as “God’s hands,” I can make or create whatever my mind can envision to fill another’s need. Even during Covid-tide last year, when I achingly refrained from touching and physically comforting another person, my hands could cook the Comfort meal, write the devotional – sew the mask. I still can.

As “God’s feet,” I can go to deliver a meal, go to babysit within my “Covid pod,” leave my own home – albeit virtually – to join those who seek loving fellowship.

As “God’s breath,” I can speak -- or more precious, yet -- listen. Or simply be present, soul to soul, with another of God’s fretful, frightened children.

Give in Secret

My little gifts, whether from my hands or from my heart, merit no recognition. Freely I have received; freely I give. I consider St. Nicholas’ tradition of secretly leaving small gifts in shoes – dirty, stinky, lowly shoes – yet treats appreciated all the same.

No gift is too humble, no context too shabby for offerings given in love.

Nor did Saint Nicholas wait around for appreciation. Neither must I, for time is short and workers few. I need not be recognized or canonized as Saint, like Nicholas, with a capital “S” to know that my efforts matter. Indeed, Jesus cautions that we “do our good deeds in secret… and that we don’t let our left hand know what the right hand is doing.”

Saints discern needs and fill them without fanfare. Small “s” saints – that’s all of us -- can discern needs and fill them, too. My modest means won’t permit me to lob bags of gold through windows; however, small contributions add up. I can ease a need, say at the Friendly Kitchen, though I may not eliminate the need altogether. Sometimes a single smile, or call, or card can be the ember that sparks hope.

Yes, I think I can do this. I can try.

Share hope


This Advent, may I, like good St. Nicholas, recognize needs, however obscure. May I act to address them, however modestly -- without calling attention to myself. May God grant me discernment to know: Whose hope am I?

Whose Hope are you? ###

This meditation first appeared Dec. 5, 2020, on

Photo credits:

Lights: Chris Moore on Unsplash

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